Some may see the city of Aspen’s Castle Creek Bridge-Hallam Street project as part of a larger hippie plot to make construction workers ride bicycles, but a breakdown of the associated $4.6 million cost shows that the vast majority of spending is related to items other than a wider sidewalk.
And despite narrowing the space on the only highway link into Aspen available to motorized transportation, city officials argue the project will ultimately improve the driver experience, with better pull outs for buses at Eighth Street and a newly-rebuilt, pothole free road.
Improved perhaps for drivers, but not before roughly 23 weeks of construction spread out over seven months that will take a two-month break during the mid-June-through-mid-August summer tourism peak.
During the season-straddling construction project, one lane of what is among the busiest two-lane corridors in all of Colorado will be closed, sending traffic in varying configurations through West End detours that will change depending on the week or, in some cases, time of day.
If the first week of the project that began April 2 is any indication of how the rest of it will run, the implications of these reroutes will vary widely, from at worst a minor inconvenience to a frustrating time suck, depending on your method and direction of travel, time of day and general perspective.
First-week experience shows that only a few minutes are added to the outbound trip, traveling on residential West End streets to the winding Power Plant Road, if there is little traffic.
However, when the traffic flows increase, plan on an additional 10 to 20 minutes for that outbound trip. It could get worse, too, since no one yet knows what might come in the busier weeks of early June or late August.
Inbound vehicles, which still get to use the bridge during construction, may be backed up to let limited outbound traffic that still gets to use the bridge through — mainly RFTA buses and large construction trucks. School-related traffic pulses are also said to be impacting wait times.
Transit riders will have to adjust to the closure of the busy Eighth Street bus stops, which are not planned to reopen even during the hiatus. Pedestrians in the neighborhood must steer clear of the normally busy Eighth Street crossing of the highway, the bridge and the Hallam Street corridor.
The fuss is all about a project that was subject to a “living lab” test in 2016, where a temporary expanded sidewalk made of wood was added to the bridge, the traffic lanes narrowed. This resulted in no substantial impacts to traffic flows, but a 50 percent spike in pedestrian and bike traffic, according to city engineers who evaluated the five-month experiment.
Installation of the final improvements was supposed to commence last summer but stalled when the city couldn’t attract any bids. Blame it on the Glenwood Springs Grand Avenue Bridge rebuild — the largest infrastructure improvement on the Western Slope in a generation — and multiple major projects already underway in Aspen, according to the city.
Lead contractor Gould Construction submitted a bid this time around and the project schedule was finalized in January. Some felt this was not adequate notice, giving the city little time to drum home the message about the coming impacts, why they are necessary, and how to best manage them.
Breakdown — go ahead, give it to me
There is no question that the work will result in top-to-bottom infrastructure upgrades for anyone walking, riding a bike or using public transit in an area stretching 1,150 feet from the western end of the Castle Creek Bridge to the first “S-curve.”
For those who normally experience the area from their seat in a bus or a car, it’s easy to underestimate how busy this stretch is. Sure, there are the 27,000 or more high-season car trips per day, but there are also hundreds, if not thousands, of pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders crowding the failing sidewalks each day (and sometimes into the night).
The bus stops are among the area’s busiest as they are the most logical transfer point for anyone traveling from Aspen Highlands, the schools’ campus and the Aspen Valley Hospital/Marolt housing cluster to Snowmass Village or points downvalley. The Eighth and Hallam intersection can have the feel of an urban, main-artery interchange and it is also one of the busiest crosswalks in town.
The sidewalk across the bridge may be the project’s poster child. It’s currently 4 feet wide with a chain link fence on one side and a steep curb dropping into the narrow highway shoulder on the other. Traversing this stretch can be a frightening experience, especially when one or more bikers cross paths with one or more pedestrians, as happens frequently. Fixing up this sidewalk, which serves as part of the Aspen trail system connecting town with growing areas west of Castle Creek — think of the Burlingame neighborhood as well as recreational opportunities at Sky Mountain Park — has been on the city open space board’s top-priorities list for the better part of a decade.
Despite that, spending for the bridge portion of the wider sidewalk trail accounts for only 4 percent of all project costs, according to city officials. Add in the wider path that runs from the bridge past Eighth Street, the bus stop, the Forest Service compound and Seventh Street, and the total project spending devoted to the trail increases to $417,927, or 9 percent, according to Pete Rice, a senior project manager in engineering department.
The largest of all the line items noted in a breakdown Rice provided is $1.019 million to demolish and rebuild the Highway 82 roadway. This includes raising roadway for drainage and to better cover over infrastructure, as well as new paving in the larger bus stop areas.
Also included under the “roadway” category are $60,432 worth of structural improvements to the bridge, which could lengthen the life of the 1960s-era span.
Traffic control and mobilization is the next largest line item, at $988,486. The next-largest line item is $889,968 worth of infrastructure work. This includes a storm sewer replacement on Seventh Street and the east side of the bridge, which requires hundreds of feet of concrete pipe and manholes. Improved electrical connections throughout the corridor included street light and bus stop connections and the main feeder line.
Falling under this category, much of week-one work has been devoted to replacing a culvert that carries the Si Johnson Ditch under the highway at Eighth Street. The existing, failing culvert caused potholes to form on the road surface in its vicinity, Rice noted.
The final big-ticket items are the two new bus stops on either side of the road, coming in a $628,112. Resembling the new BRT stations downvalley, the stops will have snowmelt, better drainage, stormwater quality infrastructure, bike racks and benches.
Consultants fees are $104,756 and the project has a $413,322 contingency fund.
Bryana Starbuck, the project’s project information manager who works for a consulting public relations firm, said she has been working to emphasize that the project has benefits for everyone, not just pedestrians. For example, in-bound buses will have an improved pull off at Eighth Street, meaning traffic flow will be better able to move around the buses. The safety of both pedestrians and drivers will be enhanced by better lines of sight at that busy crosswalk.
An oft-heard criticism of the city’s Castle Creek-Hallam endeavor is that there is already a perfectly adequate bike and pedestrian path that includes an underpass at the west end of the highway bridge connecting to a footbridge over the creek that runs into Hopkins Avenue — which is already set aside as a pedestrian- and bike-only route.
Starbuck said that, even with the trail over the Marolt Footbridge, the data shows that the bridge is already well used. Those patterns will continue in the future, she said. For many, it is the fastest route into town and it’s an essential connection for anyone whose destination is on the north side of Main Street.
Going forward, Starbuck advised the public that the best way to minimize delays associated with the work is to use as much alternative transportation as possible, or tailor trips to avoid peak times.
She recommended signing up for project updates via the CastleCreekBridge.com website, where more project information can be found.